Anchors Away: Achieving a Summery Home Without Drifting Out to Sea

  • “No more coral!” declares Mary Kate McGrath, picking up a party napkin emblazoned with the twiggy red theme so ubiquitous of late. We’re on a shopping trip in Tribeca, scouting warm-weather home touches that don’t have anchors, palm trees or any of the other usual seasonal suspects.

    “Summer is not the time to pretend suddenly that you are an avid fisherman or yachtsman,” says Ms. McGrath, the editor of PureWow, a web site and daily lifestyle email for readers who have graduated from DailyCandy. “You don’t need rope everything or shell plates. You don’t need those in the city. Hello, you’re in a walkup.”

    I first met Ms. McGrath when she was the design market editor at InStyle, which meant that she got paid to shop for items for the magazine’s home section. Such editors tend to be the envy of those with lesser jobs, as well as taste, and her own persuasions are crisp and preppy with a dash of humor and DIY whimsy. Ms. McGrath’s favorite designers are Eddie Ross, Ruthie Sommers and Mark D. Sikes.

    PureWow’s motto is “Elevate the everyday,” a credo that suits Ms. McGrath. While office drones the world over sip filtered water from morning-breath-infused plastic souvenir cups, at InStyle, Ms. McGrath would bring a glass carafe to the cooler and pour it into a cocktail tumbler, out of pleasure rather than affect. She kept her stationery in a lucite box, all the better to actually use it. And her desk was never cluttered with the usual office detritus—all the drab stuff was neatly tucked away to make room for a spiky orb from Kelly Wearstler, a gilded snakeskin tray that doubled as her “inbox,” and a humongous Jo Malone candle. “It’s all about hiding the stuff you don’t want people to see—it makes for a better-looking life,” she said.

    When it comes to summer home design, she likes to make a moment of it, much the same way some people approach fall and winter holidays: “I don’t have a summer house, so I have to find summer in everyday ritual,” says Ms. McGrath, who lives with her husband and two-year-old son on the Upper West Side. “Have sheets you only use during the summer. The rest of the year, pack them away.”

    On a recent afternoon, she found lots of inspiration at three Tribeca shops: Stella for towels and sheets; Roberta Roller Rabbit for all manner of colorful prints; and Steven Alan Home to get that mod urban farmer feel. (“Instead of the awkward, ‘Hey, so glad you came, but do you know where those cute little baskets went?’ I can just buy, and not pocket, all his amazing finds,” she says.)

    Even more than bright accessories, Ms. McGrath explains summer style chiefly as an absence of wintery clutter. Putting silverware on the counter and hiding your menus in the drawer—that type of thing. “Summer is a clean slate, a chance to remove the cobwebs and do the life you don’t normally do,” she says. “For a couple of months, pretend the guests are coming tonight and hide all the crap you don’t like in your life.” Just don’t hide it in a captain’s trunk.

    Stella, 184 Duane St. (212) 233-9610
    Roberta Roller Rabbit, 176 Duane St.(212) 966-0076
    Steven Alan Home, 158 Franklin St. (646) 402-9661

    fpenn@observer.com

  • (Yoshii mini-guest towel, $8.75, Stella)

  • (Doug Johnston baskets, $36 to $175. Hudson Valley seeds, $4, Steven Alan.)

  • (Hedgehouse throwbeds, $350, Steven Alan)

  • (Large nesting boxes, $65, Roberta Roller Rabbit)

  • (Claus Porto Classical & Fantasia Soaps, $13, Stella.)